Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Senate Passes Resolution Condemning Sudan Military Coup. On May 11, the Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 (S.Con.Res 20) that condemned the October 2021 military coup in Sudan, expressed solidarity with the Sudanese people, and called for the restoration of the civilian prime minister. This resolution was first introduced on November 4, 2021, following the coup and was re-introduced on April 4 by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) with three cosponsors: SFRC Ranking Member James Risch (R-Idaho), Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), and Chris Coons (D-Delaware). It has been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Menendez, Others Introduce International Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. On May 10, Senators Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), James Risch (R-Idaho), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) introduced S.4171 to the SFRC to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. This legislation provides US executive agencies tools to investigate and combat trafficking in persons and amends the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act to ensure that recipients of American development aid are doing enough to counter it. The US government has prioritized the Middle East in past anti-human trafficking efforts when in 2021 the Trafficking in Persons report highlighted the kafala labor system in the Gulf states, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Reps. Malinowski, Spanberger Introduce Resolution Re. Saudi Arabia, UAE. On May 12, Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) and Abigail Spanberger (D- Virginia) introduced H.Res.1112, urging Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to abide by their strategic relationship with the United States and work with Washington “to increase oil production to stabilize energy markets.” The two countries have since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine resisted American pressure to increase their production to help stabilize and reduce energy prices.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Democratic Congressmembers Condemn Al Jazeera Journalist’s Killing. Democratic members of the House and Senate issued statements condemning the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent and Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Aqleh in Jenin. Many called for an investigation into the killing and some called for restricting US aid to Israel. No such statement or condemnation was recorded for any Republican member of Congress.

Rep. Deutch Hails Abraham Accords. In May 11 remarks to a group of Jewish leaders, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) condemned hostility towards Israel and said the Abraham Accords are a “perfect example” of Israel forging alliances across the region. Deutch is slated to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee later this year.

Sen. Risch Condemns Iran. Considering the news that Iran detained two European nationals just as a European Union nuclear negotiator was to hold a meeting with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, Senator James Risch (R-Idaho) said Iran is not a trustworthy partner, and this should be the final “nail in the coffin” of any nuclear deal with Iran.

Congressional Campaigns Feature Pro-Israel Candidates. Congressional primary battles around the United States are featuring candidates who are being heavily funded by pro-Israel organizations. On May 3, Progressive Nina Turner was defeated by incumbent pro-Israel Representative Shontel Brown in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District. In Pennsylvania, former Republican congressional staffer Steve Irwin is challenging Democratic State House Representative Summer Lee in the heavily Democratic 12th Congressional District with large contributions from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Democratic Majority for Israel, both pro-Israel organizations.

In Nevada’s 1st Congressional District around Las Vegas, David Brog is fighting seven other Republican candidates with clear support from pro-Israel organizations and former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. If successful, Brog will challenge the incumbent Democratic Representative Dina Titus in next November’s midterm elections. In Texas, candidate Wesley Hunt won a Republican primary in the state’s 38th Congressional District and has an easy run against incumbent Democratic Representative Lizze Fletcher because of heavy gerrymandering in his district. He was funded by AIPAC and the first non-incumbent to be endorsed by the lobbying organization this election season.

In the Senate race in Pennsylvania, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pennsylvania) is trying to maintain a delicate balance on Israel in his bid to succeed outgoing Republican Senator Pat Toomey. He announced that he is a supporter of Israel but said that the United States must not refrain from criticizing it when its behavior jeopardizes the two-state solution.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Reaffirms Close US-Israel Ties. In a video message to the Israeli embassy in Washington on Israel’s 74th Independence Day celebration, President Joe Biden said that the relationship between the United States and Israel has been “indispensable.” He reiterated US support of Israel, saying “Our ties are unbreakable and I’m proud to stand with Israel today and always.”

Biden Administration Asks Congress to Approve Turkish Arms Sales. The Biden Administration reportedly asked Congress to approve the sale of equipment, ammunition, and upgrades to Turkey, despite previous tensions about its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system. As the conflict in Ukraine continues, Turkey is a valuable NATO ally and mediator, holding talks between Russia and Ukraine and controlling the Bosporus Strait.

President Biden Renews Yemen, Syria, and Iraq National Emergencies. In accordance with the National Emergencies Act, President Joe Biden issued three executive orders renewing the national emergencies for another year for Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. The orders cited threats to US national security and stability.

King Abdullah II of Jordan Visits the White House. President Biden received Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House on May 13. According to a readout, the two discussed ways to strengthen the US-Jordanian partnership. Additionally, King Abdullah traveled to the Pentagon to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Karine Jean-Pierre Criticized for Past Statements on AIPAC. Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman criticized the newly appointed White House Press Secretary for a 2019 Op-Ed where she accused AIPAC of being “severely racist” and “lifting up Islamophobic voices and attitudes.” Although AIPAC has historically garnered bipartisan support, criticism from Democrats has increased in recent years, and AIPAC has run several targeted advertisements against lawmakers critical of Israel.

2) Department of State

Thomas-Greenfield Meets with Syrian Civil Society Organizations. On May 9, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, met with representatives of Syrian civil society organizations in Brussels and pledged continued US humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. She will be traveling to the Syrian border area with Turkey in the near future. She also expressed continued US work toward implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and others accused of atrocities accountable. At a pledging conference on May 10 in the city, Thomas-Greenfield announced that the United State will give $800 million in new humanitarian assistance. Following the conference, the United States participated with other attendees in issuing a statement committing them to helping Syria’s refugees and pursuing a political solution in the country pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

DoS Supports Tripartite Efforts to Help Sudan’s Political Process. On May 9, the Department of State announced its support for joint efforts by the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development regarding a political process that restores civilian democratic rule in Sudan. It also appreciated the release of political detainees by military authorities in the country.

US Co-Sponsors Mentorship Program That Includes Arab Women. On May 9, the State Department announced the arrival of 15 women from 11 countries to participate in a joint Fortune-US entrepreneurship mentoring program. Women participants from Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Turkey will join others in the month-long program to learn from “American leaders in the public and private sectors to support and advance women’s economic empowerment.”

US Eases Sanctions on Non-regime Areas in Syria. On May 12, the State Department announced that it will authorize some economic activities in non-regime areas in Syria to allow them to address problems following the defeat of the so-called Islamic State. The United States also pledged $110 million in spending following a ministerial meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco (D-ISIS meeting) to deal with the post-IS era in Syria. US officials attended that meeting such as Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.

US Breaks Ground for New Embassy Building in Doha, Qatar. On May 9, the United States broke ground for a new embassy building in Doha, Qatar. A statement from the State Department said that the new structure represents an “expansion of U.S.–Qatari diplomatic, security, and commercial relations.” 

 State Dept. Condemns Killing of Al Jazeera Journalist. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price labeled the death of al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Aqleh “an affront to media freedom everywhere” and called for an “immediate and thorough” investigation. The journalist was fatally shot by Israeli forces while reporting from a Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

State Dept. Affirms Commitment to Elections in Libya. On May 12, Yael Lempert, Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, met with the head of the Libyan High National Elections Committee Emad al-Sayeh in Tunis. She reiterated the US’s commitment to supporting free and fair elections for Libya, which is currently split between two opposing governments each claiming legitimacy.

3) Department of Defense

Secretary Austin Congratulates New UAE President. On May 14, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III spoke by phone with the new president of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, who assumed the post following the death of his brother and former present Khalifa bin Zayed. US-UAE relations are currently going through some tensions following the UAE’s refusal to accommodate an American request for increased oil production by the oil-rich Gulf nation.

CENTCOM’s Kurilla Reports Concern Among US ME Partners. General Erik Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, visited the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the Egypt and reported that he heard many concerns about US commitment to the region. He said he gave assurances to all those he met that the United States can be looked at as a dependable partner.

4) Departments of the Treasury

Treasury Sanctions Islamic State Funding Facilitators. Pursuant to Executive Order 13224, the Treasury Department sanctioned five individuals who facilitated the funding of operations by the so-called Islamic State. The individuals—Dwi Dahlia Susanti, Rudi Heryadi, Ari Kardian, Muhammad Dandi Adhiguna, and Dini Ramadhani—operated between Turkey, Indonesia, and Syria and helped the smuggling of children from refugee camps in the latter in order to be recruited as fighters for the organization.

Energy Department

US Energy Secretary Holds Talks with UAE Minister. On May 12, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met with her Emirati counterpart Sultan al Jaber and discussed how to get to eliminate emissions by the year 2050 through reliable and clean energy around the world. The UAE has been approved to host the COP28 climate summit in 2023 and has hosted many other international climate events in recent years.